After the frustration of numerous flight cancellations this summer, I was thrilled to finally get back into the air, this time onboard one of British Airways’ new A321neos on a flight from London Heathrow to Berlin’s Tegel Airport.
Germany is one of the few countries on the UK’s list of quarantine-extempt locations, so I took advantage of this and booked a short two-day trip to the German capital.
The trip was planned right at the last minute, so to avoid the quoted £350 fare on BA’s website, I opted for an Avios redemption. In total, I paid a £1 booking fee and a total of 22750 Avios for Club Europe out to Tegel and Euro Traveller back to Heathrow. Not bad.
Day of Departure
I was travelling light, so on the day of departure, I arrived at Terminal 5 just before 10am and walked straight through to Fast Track security, one of the perks of flying Club Europe. The airport wasn’t too busy anyway, but avoiding large groups of people is always a bonus, especially in the context of the pandemic.
Boarding was scheduled for 10:20, so I only had 15 minutes by the time I made it through security. Nonetheless, I decided to quickly visit the Galleries Lounge North to get something to eat, preparing myself for the horror stories I’d heard of catering — or more accurately, lack thereof — in Club Europe since the start of the pandemic.
Once in the lounge, I noticed a few differences to previously. For starters, you’re now greeted with a hand sanitising station.
Following on from this, the buffet was closed, and all food and drinks were ordered through a website, accessible by scanning a QR code at each table. Tables are now fewer in number and further spread out, separated by clear dividers. I found this to be an improvement on the situation before the pandemic, as the Galleries lounges were often unpleasantly crowded.
After eating, I spent a few minutes admiring the views of aircraft on the stands and landing on 9L (was lucky enough to catch an A350 arriving from IAD) before leaving the lounge and heading downstairs to gate A9 for boarding.
London Heathrow – Berlin Tegel
Airbus A321neo (G-NEOS)
In an attempt to limit contact between passengers, boarding is now completed from rear to front. This means that there is no priority boarding, and those with Club Europe tickets will be the last to embark. The system was painstakingly slow; passengers boarded in rows of 5, and a significantly large gap was left between each group.
The process was exacerbated by the fact that the flight was full with limited cabin space, so passengers with big overhead bags were forced to have these placed in the hold, adding on further time.
Unfortunately for me in 6F, this commotion amounted to a wait of over 40 minutes before I made it anywhere near the plane. In the end, I headed back up to wait in the Galleries North lounge, as I figured I could at least wait in peace there.
Eventually, the finally few rows were called, and I made my way forward for boarding at 11:10, 50 minutes after it had started. This particular gate was an e-gate, but staff still manually checked passports, somewhat defeating the purpose of contact-free boarding.
Upon entering the aircraft, every passenger is now handed a plastic bag containing hand sanitiser and an antibacterial wipe. This was then followed by a lengthy explanation on current coronavirus guidelines after doors closed.
Seats in British Airways’ Club Europe are similar to those offered by other EU carriers on their intra-Europe flights — they offer no real size advantage over standard economy seats, as seat width and pitch are identical. For BA’s A321neo, this means a width of 17 inches and a pitch of 29 inches. In Club Europe, the middle seat is blocked out, so you will never have another passenger directly next to you.
BA used to have tables on top of these middle seats, though these have been completely left off newer aircraft. This is likely because the Club Europe seats also function as standard Euro Traveller seats, and without the middle tables to remove or add each flight, cabin crew can transition the cabin much more quickly, now only needing to adjust the curtain separating cabins.
Due to the slow boarding, we pushed back 30 minutes behind schedule, but it was a short taxi to runway 9R, and we were in the air by 11:30.
After departure, the usual announcements were made. This was followed by the drinks service about 20 minutes later, as well as an introduction to in-flight WiFi, which this particular aircraft was equipped with.
Having heard earlier that BA had stopped serving alcohol onboard, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was no longer the case. I had a small bottle of champagne and an orange juice, served with a few packs of nuts.
The food service started shortly after the drinks. I was expecting a blue lunch box as has been standard in Club Europe since the start of the pandemic, but instead, I received a rather sad-looking brown paper bag containing a coronation chicken sandwich, a bottle of water, and a chocolate mousse.
My expectations weren’t high to begin with, so I didn’t find this particularly shocking. The sandwich tasted fine, so at least no complaints there (though whether this is the sort of meal that should even be served in the first place on a supposedly ‘premium’ product is a completely separate matter. But more on that later).
I want to give BA the benefit of the doubt here as I understand that the airline has removed hot food to reduce contact between passengers and crew. Still, numerous other airlines have been able to implement some sort of socially-distanced hot food service in their premium cabins, so it’s slightly disappointing to not see the same from BA.
It’s worth mentioning that on the return leg to London in Euro Traveller, we were handed a complimentary ‘snack pack’ with water, some pretzels, and a packet of crisps. This came as a real shock (the bar is that low), especially considering BA scrapped its complimentary snack service in favour of the M&S buy-on-board service a few years ago.
Whether complimentary snacks in Euro Traveller are only temporary or here to stay, I don’t know, but it definitely appears as though BA has realised the error of its ways and is quietly going back on itself.
The flight to Berlin was fairly short, with barely 30 minutes between crusing and descent, so I didnt have another drink or coffee, although the cabin crew were friendly and made sure to ask plenty of times.
We made up lost time and touched down just 15 minutes behind schedule at 11:57, before taxiing a short while to the gate.
Upon arrival, it was announced that everyone should stay seated until their row was called to disembark. This was conducted in the opposite way to boarding, with Club Europe being the first to leave.
I was one of the first off the plane, and headed quickly through security and out of the airport, ready to enjoy my 24 hours in Berlin!
At the price I paid, I was satisfied with my experience in Club Europe. The experience from entering the airport to disembarking the plane was mostly stress-free and ejoyable, and I was much more ‘at ease’ than had I been in Euro Traveller.
This being said, the product itself was far from perfect, and there remain numerous criticisms to point out. First and foremost, Club Europe is supposedly a premium product, though in its current state, there’s arguably very little premium about it. Yes — a greater baggage allowance, fast track security, and lounge access are great benefits. However, these are not exclusive to Club Europe, and with the right BA status, you can fly on an economy ticket with all these benefits but at a fraction of the cost.
Indeed, the seat is the same as Euro Traveller anyway, so really, the premium fare that you’d be paying is for the tier points and Avios, and maybe the empty middle seat (if it means that much to you). You’re certainly not paying for a premium onboard experience, especially in the current climate, where you get no priority boarding, a reduced onboard service, and poor inflight catering.
Would I book Club Europe again? As a redemption ticket, sure. Upfront? Probably not.
Aviation enthusiast from London. Usually found spotting planes or flying gliders! Favourite aircraft: 777-300ER. Recent graduate of Japanese at Oxford University. email@example.com @dominic_oben